Monday, November 16, 2009

NV - Flawed sex offender tracking leads to wrong door (Website uses Offender Watch!)

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See this related article

This article is rather old, so the site may have been working out kinks, but, like the article says, one error is too many! This person is being harassed, and is not a sex offender, all because the website has the wrong information.


By Abigail Goldman (Contact)

It's worse during the holidays. Christmas, New Year's, Halloween. That's when they really start knocking. Calling him out in the middle of the night. Showing up at his stoop in angry packs.

"_____," they wheeze through the front door, "_____ - we know you're in there ... "

_____ is a 35-year-old sex offender who was busted for child porn. But _____ doesn't live at this Tropicana Avenue apartment. Hasn't for years. So when the curious (if that's really all they are) come calling, they're now ringing the wrong doorbell. Despite what sex offender-tracking Web sites say, this apartment belongs to Harry Berlin, 71 years old, frail and, frankly, petrified.

"I'm a nervous wreck," he says, holding out his hands. They quake like palsy.

For nearly two years Berlin's address has been reported as _____'s on a Nevada Web site. Two months ago it popped up again, this time on Metro Police's new sex offender watch Web site.

Now whenever the Web site gets TV attention, Berlin says, people come looking for _____. Maybe to rough him up. Or at least give him a good scare. Instead, they terrorize Berlin.

Depending on whom you ask, this is either a disturbing example of why the Web site should be taken down or an inevitable and easily remedied occurrence when dealing with sex offenders. It's a debate complicated by changing laws and different notions about what is necessary to protect a community, and at what cost.

Berlin first saw his address posted on the Nevada Public Safety Department's sex offender Web site in January of last year. Aghast, he called the agency's headquarters in Carson City to have the error corrected. He was told to take it up with Metro. He did, and was told to go back to the state.

So while _____ was relocating to parts unknown, Berlin's complaint was suffocating in a bureaucratic morass.

Then, in September, Metro launched its own Web site. Visitors started showing up at Berlin's doorstep in groups. Once a woman and a child came for Christopher. Through the peephole, Berlin saw a handful of men lurking in the shadows behind her. He stayed inside.

"I'm getting paranoid," he said. This from a man who has never had so much as a traffic ticket.

Frustrated and scared, Berlin decided he wasn't going to take his complaint to Metro. Instead, he took it to the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union, which quickly found fault with the department's Web site. As ACLU (Contact) Executive Director Gary Peck explains it, even one address incorrectly listed as the home of a sex offender is a grave problem, one that exposes Metro to serious civil liability and, more important, suggests the Web site is fundamentally flawed.

"It's deeply disturbing to me that the (address) reporting is not accurate," Peck said. "At the very least, it's benign neglect."

Metro Sgt. Steve Rossi, who works in Metro's Sex Offender Apprehension program, disagrees. The Web site is a public service tool, he said. The law puts the burden on sex offenders to report their addresses, and because convicted felons aren't always eager to update police on their whereabouts, the Web site comes with a disclaimer that the information should not be used to harass or terrorize anyone, he said.

Implicit in this disclaimer is the fact that information online isn't 100 percent accurate. Rossi says it's an unavoidable reality when dealing with sex offenders.

"We are taking information from convicted felons to populate these databases," Rossi says. "In a perfect world, we would be able to go out on a regular basis and physically confirm (the data), but with more than 4,000 offenders, that's just not possible."

This partially explains the numerous problems that can be found on sex offender registries across the country, said University of Louisville professor Richard Tewksbury, who researches registries and community response to sex offenders.

Although police are charged with checking the information provided on these Web sites, that task often takes a back seat to more pressing concerns, such as crimes in progress.

Besides, Tewksbury says, "we know that government databases of any and all forms are replete with problems, errors and inaccuracy. It's not at all surprising."

(On the state's site, _____ was described as 5 feet 8 and 200 pounds. On the Metro site, he was 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds. But both sites had one thing in common: Berlin's address.)

Citizens occasionally call to report that their address is wrongly listed, Rossi says, and Metro sends detectives to the location and corrects the Web site when necessary

So, Peck wants to know: Why is Berlin still being harassed?

Nevada law requires that a central state agency maintain one searchable online sex offender registry - this is the Public Safety Department's site. Any other Nevada sex offender-monitoring Web site is just a different version of the same thing.

Metro's site is run by a private company, Watch Systems LLC, at a cost of $14,000 a year, covered entirely by a Justice Department grant.
- Wow, that is a ton of money, IMO.  See the other link I provided.  At the present, there are 426 counties across the country using Offender Watch, so that is $14,000 * 426 = $5,964,000 million per year.  CHA CHING!!!!  You see, it's all about the money, and apparently Offender Watch is making a killing.  I am a programmer myself, maybe I should design a program, for a lot less, and become rich?  Not! I could design on for everybody else, and let the public add data to the database, for corrupt cops, politicians, celebrities, etc.  But, I'm sure I'd be faced with a lawsuit for incorrect data, so I'll pass.

That a private company has been hired to handle the sex offender database is another bone of contention for the ACLU, and not just because the information is sensitive.

"It seems pointless given that the state has a perfectly good Web site," said ACLU staff attorney Maggie McLetchie. "Why even do it?"

Metro decided to launch its own sex offender Web site to increase public awareness, Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. Watch Systems was hired to avoid "burdening our technology section" with the task of maintaining a constantly changing Web site.

The department also wanted "to look to the future," Gillespie said, by taking advantage of new laws that require Metro to take a bigger role in monitoring sex offenders.

Effective July 1, Metro will be responsible for keeping track of local sex offenders, a task historically managed by the state's Public Safety Department.

"The offenders no longer have contact with the state," Rossi said. "They do everything with us, and we supply the state everything."

So if Metro will be the first to collect the data, why not put that information on Metro's Web site? Because the site is not just for citizens, Rossi said, but has been built to include additional information on each offender for department use only.

A situation, by the way, that also makes the ACLU uncomfortable - a private database of personal information, run by a for-profit company.

Tewksbury says private companies might do a better job of managing databases than the government could. And although he has not heard of another police department subcontracting a sex offender Web site, the professor is not concerned.

"The fact that for-profit entities are managing the sites gives us some degree of optimism that they will have an efficient database," he said.

The Web site is not the only responsibility Watch Systems handles for Metro. The company also sends out community notification letters to citizens living near sex offenders deemed dangerous.
- And if they have the wrong information, they could say you are a sex offender, and then you will be subjected to potential harassment from vigilante neighbors.

Moreover, Metro's Web site offers a feature the state's site does not - users can sign up for e-mail alerts if an offender moves to their community.

But none of this matters if the information can't be trusted, Peck said.

And it's a second disclaimer, one written by Watch Systems, that reminds the user nothing online can be taken as absolute truth:

"(Watch Systems) has not and will not verify, warrant, vouch or confirm the accuracy of the data posted and makes no warranties whatsoever that the data is accurate or timely when posted by the related agency ..."

If the site is for community protection, Peck asks, isn't that goal undermined by Berlin's terror? And what happens if Berlin, or someone else in his circumstance, is attacked - who's at fault then?

"This whole system really does encourage a kind of vigilantism," Peck said. "There is potential here for real harm to come to real people."

The police see things differently.

Isn't there potential, Rossi says, for real harm to come to people living near dangerous sex offenders? And isn't it better they have more information? Even if that information can't always be absolutely guaranteed?

On Wednesday, two Metro detectives went to Berlin's apartment to verify that he is, in fact, not _____. They checked his ID and, satisfied he isn't the sex offender, asked Berlin to sign a waiver saying as much.

Berlin refused to sign. He was scared and didn't want to do anything without consulting with the ACLU first.

Barry Berlin, explaining Harry Berlin's decision, said, "My brother believes that in America you do not have to sign papers stating that you are not a sex offender just so that you can live in your own apartment without police interference."

But police were satisfied enough with what they found that Berlin's address has been taken off the Public Safety Department's and Metro's sex offender Web sites.

Meanwhile, local TV news anchors are still putting on their serious faces to suggest Joe Citizen go online and search his neighborhood for predators.

And Berlin is still spooked.

"I'm afraid to stay in my apartment," he said, "and I'm afraid to come out."

"That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

OH - Huron County sex offenders take retroactive law to Ohio Supreme Court

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Three sex offenders from Huron County are challenging the constitutionality of an Ohio law regarding sex offender registration.

The trio claim Senate Bill 10, which was enacted in 2007 and changed the way sex offenders are classified, has a retroactive clause that unfairly punishes offenders convicted before the law went into effect.

"You can't go back and impose new punishments on acts that were committed before the new punishment became a possibility," said their attorney, Jeffrey Gamso.

The classification of about 26,000 sex offenders could be changed depending on the outcome of the case.

Among those hoping to be reclassified are the three Huron County litigants -- _____, _____ and _____.

Convicted of crimes ranging from sexual battery to attempted rape, _____, _____ and _____ were ordered to register as sex offenders for 10 to 20 years.

But because of the 2007 law, they now must register for the rest of their lives.

The three challenged the law in Huron County Common Pleas Court and lost.

They then made their case in the appellate court and lost again.

But the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear their case and several others that also challenge the new law.

Before 2007, sex offenders in Ohio were classified into three categories: sexually oriented offenders, which requires yearly registration for 10 years; habitual sexual offenders, which requires twice annual registration for 20 years; and sexual predators, requiring registration every 90 days for life.

Officials said determining the category in which offenders belonged was not a perfect science, but was based on the likelihood of the offenders committing another crime. Judges evaluated offenders, the circumstances of their crimes and their prior criminal records to guess the probability of them re-offending.
- No it's not based on the likelihood they will re-offend, it's based on the crime itself.  Nobody can predict the future. And what about those already through the system, and not on probation or parole?  How are you evaluating them?

But S.B. 10 scraped this process and made it so sex offenders' classification was based strictly on the crimes they committed, legal experts said.
- Exactly, it's based on the crime now, and not the persons history.

Offenders are now classified into three tiers carrying roughly the same kinds of registration rules.

The new law also worked retroactively, meaning about 26,000 sex offenders in Ohio were reclassified as Tier III offenders, which requires lifelong registration, according to information provided by the Ohio Supreme Court.
- And a retroactive law is an ex post facto law, which is strictly forbidden by the US and state Constitutions, so therefore it's unconstitutional!

The trio's challenge is the most substantive and carries the potential for the biggest ramifications, lawyers from both sides of the issue said.

Gamso was in Columbus on Wednesday arguing against the law before the Ohio Supreme Court.

He argued that changing offenders' registration requirements after they've already been convicted and classified violates the ex post facto section of the U.S. Constitution, which protects people from receiving punishments for actions committed before laws were enacted prohibiting those actions.

The same provision also prevents the courts from adding punishments onto the sentences of people convicted of crimes when new, tougher laws go into effect.

For instance, a man convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days in jail cannot be forced to serve another 30 days in jail if a new law is enacted after his case is finished.

Similarly, Gamso said requiring his clients to register as sex offenders for life is increasing the severity of their punishments after the fact.

But Huron County prosecutor Russ Leffler said while the new law isn't the most helpful piece of legislation -- it reclassifies so many offenders into the Tier III category that it makes it hard to identify the most serious offenders -- it's still constitutionally sound.
- You just don't get it.  You are adding to their sentence and adding punishment after the fact, a violation of the constitution. You are just calling it by some other name, but it's still unconstitutional.

Arguing in front of the Ohio Supreme Court, Leffler said laws governing sex offender registration and classification are safety measures to protect the public -- not punishment for the offenders.
- Not punishment, that is total BS!  Many have stated over and over the laws are about punishment.  See the video below for proof.

"It's not additional punishment, which we think is consistent with what the supreme court has previously said in two other cases," Leffler said.

But Gamso said no matter the intent of the registration law -- to protect the public or punish the offenders -- it's the effects that matter.

He claims the effect of the new law unfairly punishes 26,000 offenders.

Although the oral arguments have wrapped up, the Ohio Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling on the case for months.
- You can read these oral arguments, here and here.

The trio and 26,000 other offenders eagerly await the decision.

_____ was convicted in 1999 of attempted sexual battery after he climbed through the window of a neighbor's home while she slept. Authorities said she woke up to _____ licking her.

_____, meanwhile, was convicted in 1999 of attempted rape for engaging in sexual activity with a male relative.

And authorities said _____ was convicted of gross sexual imposition and sexual battery in 1994 after he molested two female relatives.

Video Link

"Nothing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government principles and precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves. Of this kind is the doctrine of disqualification, disfranchisement, and banishment by acts of the legislature. The dangerous consequences of this power are manifest. If the legislature can disfranchise any number of citizens at pleasure by general descriptions, it may soon confine all the votes to a small number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy; if it may banish at discretion all those whom particular circumstances render obnoxious, without hearing or trial, no man can be safe, nor know when he may be the innocent victim of a prevailing faction. The name of liberty applied to such a government, would be a mockery of common sense." - Alexander Hamilton (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

IL - Man shot, then killed by hit-run vehicle

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By Deanese Williams-Harris, Andrew L. Wang and William Lee

Chicago police Sunday were continuing their search for the person who shot a convicted sex offender and struck him with a vehicle near a lounge in the city's Chatham neighborhood.

An autopsy Sunday showed that the man -- identified as _____, 34 -- died from injuries caused by the vehicle, according to a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Two other men also were shot in the incident, which happened near 83rd Street and Vincennes Avenue. Those victims did not suffer life-threatening injuries, police said.

At about 1:58 a.m. Sunday, police responded to shots fired in the 8100 block of South Vincennes Avenue, said Chicago Police Officer Laura Kubiak. About two blocks south, near 83rd and Vincennes, they found _____ lying in the street; he appeared to have been struck by a car. Police didn't have a description of the vehicle, Kubiak said.

Paramedics arrived and found that _____ had been shot in the abdomen. He was pronounced dead on the scene, police said.

When police interviewed the two other men at St. Bernard Hospital, they learned that they were standing in the 8200 block of South Vincennes when they heard gunshots and were hit, one man in a leg, the other in a shoulder, Kubiak said.

They told police _____ was shot and ran into the street, where he was struck by an unknown vehicle, police said.

Court records show that _____, of the 300 block of East Indiana Street in Park Forest, had a long criminal history with several felony convictions including a 1997 conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault with a weapon. In 2003, he was acquitted of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery.

_____, who had at least four aliases, was listed as compliant on the state's sex offender registry, though he had previously violated registry rules, records show.

No arrests had been made late Sunday, police said.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

FL - Child-safety zones work

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Also read this, and leave a comment



In an Associated Press article printed in the Nov. 4 Miami Herald we learned that Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability concluded that residential-restriction laws for sex offenders are ineffective in preventing repeat abuse.

They suggested instead that child-safety zones, which prohibit registered sex offenders from loitering in places where children congregate, would be more successful in achieving the goal of keeping known sex offenders away from children. The legislative policy analyst who testified based the conclusions on published research demonstrating that residence restrictions do not prevent abuse and that an offender's proximity to schools and daycares is not linked to recidivism.

Lobbyist Ron Book, who has pushed for passage of state and local residence restrictions, disputed the studies, saying "those studies are written by people who counsel predators and offenders. The studies, in and of themselves, to me, become suspect."
- Of course, he's one sided, and running on hate and anger, and will never see the truth, and I do not think he wants to know the truth, he just wants to punish people.  It's evident from all the articles about him, that he doesn't care.  And these studies have been done by EXPERTS in the field, and also another study was done by many Attorney Generals, which people ignored and said it was faulty as well. So why have experts, why don't we just get someone who is on our side, and get them to do the study?  Oh yeah, we already do that!

Book repeatedly waves his hand in dismissal of any empirical research suggesting that residential restrictions don't work. He misrepresents the research and their authors.
- And what about all these studies, which were also done by experts?  He ignores them as well. You see, it's not about facts and the truth, but only what satisfies one sided egomaniacs who think they know what all of society wants, kind of like all those under the Obama administration!

Studies by experts

Two of the studies were authored by researchers employed by state Departments of Corrections -- one in Minnesota and one in Colorado. The third study, which analyzed data from Florida, was co-authored by three university professors: a geographer from the University of New Mexico, a criminologist from the University of Nevada and a professor of Human Services from Lynn University (who does work part-time in a sex-offender treatment program).

The Minnesota study was published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, a respected scientific journal ranked among the top five criminology journals. The Florida study has been accepted for publication in that journal. Articles published in scientific journals go through a rigorous process of review by which other experts in the same field verify that the methodology is sound and the findings valid. Trust me, articles don't get published in top ranked research outlets if results are "suspect."

Book goes on to say that the studies "conflict with data from Miami-Dade County showing absconding and crimes against children have gone down while compliance with sex-offender registration requirements has gone up." According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, child sexual-abuse rates nationwide have dropped 49 percent over the past 15 years.

That is good news, but it can't be attributed to residence restrictions. Sex-offender absconding has decreased in Florida, and that too is good news, but is a comparison of apples and oranges. Book has never cited a published study demonstrating the effectiveness of residence restrictions because none exists.

Ron Book is an admirable and tireless advocate for children. But it is time to stop holding onto illusions about what we hope to be true. Continuing to steer resources toward policies that don't work promotes a false sense of security and is fiscally irresponsible. Book should work with other experts and use facts and research to advocate for sexual-abuse prevention policies that will achieve their goals. Don't children deserve that?
- Well, it's about lining the pockets with green, IMO.

Jill Levenson is an associate professor and sex crimes researcher at Lynn University. She was also the chairperson of Broward County's Sexual Offender Residence Task Force.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

Child Abductions: the Hype vs. the Reality

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Take the polls at the above link.


Are children more likely to be abducted today than they were in past generations?

It's a question every parent contemplates, especially in the age of 24-hour news, when sensationalized reports of missing children -- such as 7-year-old Somer Thompson's abduction and slaying -- seem to be a permanent fixture on television and computer screens. A look at the statistics, however, shows that America has become a safer place for kids over the past decade.

"More missing children come home today than at any time in our nation's history," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "And the total number of missing children has been on the decline over the past 10 years."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 980,712 people under the age of 18 were reported missing in 1997, compared to 643,744 in 2008.

Further distinguishing why and how children go missing is also very telling. A 2000 Justice Department study found that of the 800,000 kids who were reported missing that year, half turned out to be runaways.

And most abductions turned out to involve family members. Only 115 of all the cases reported were a version of the nightmare scenario that most troubles parents: abduction by a stranger.

"Most who prey upon children are known to the child," Allen said. "It's a matter of seduction, not abduction."

Paula S. Fass, professor of history at the University of California Berkeley and the author of "Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America," agrees.

"The anxiety experienced by society is entirely disproportionate to the numbers of actual crimes committed," Fass said. Her book traces the evolution of kidnapping of children -- from largely a crime for ransom to that of sexual predation -- over the past century and a half.

"Unfortunately, we don't have good statistics so that we can say yes or no, we had a higher percentage of child abductions in the 1980s versus the 1880s," she said. "The FBI only started keeping those kinds of stats fairly recently."

Fass argues that the role media has played in publicizing child abduction murders has led to a cultural wave of anxiety. "Look at the popular culture -- movies, television, the news -- everybody has used and exploited abducted children," Fass said.

At the same time, experts said the media can help kids in danger.

"Media coverage does play a mostly positive role," said Cindy Rudometkin, response department director of The Polly Klaas Foundation. "The media often jumps on a story, publicizing it quickly, and that's often how children get found. It also puts this taboo topic out there, which provides an opportunity for parents to further discuss these matters with their kids."

Allen, Fass and Rudometkin agree that the line between preparedness and paranoia can be difficult to navigate.

"These horrific cases tend to paint the entire picture for the problem, but the total number of children abducted by a stranger has stayed consistent at around 150 each year," Allen said. "The message here isn't, we only have a low number of actual homicides, so parents don't have to worry. We want parents to be prepared, to take steps, but not to be paralyzed by fear."

Fass said it's important to put the overall numbers in perspective. "I tell people, you have a lot of things to worry about raising your kids. Kidnapping is way down on the list."

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved